Clean gutters ensure that water and debris flow correctly through the gutter system and are dispersed away from your home. While cleaning gutters seems like a straightforward DIY project, there are risks and dangers associated with gutter cleaning. Before cleaning your gutters, it’s a good idea to become familiar with a few gutter cleaning safety tips to prevent the falls and personal injury that occur each year among homeowners.
Gutter cleaning projects involve using sharp tools, water, and sometimes walking on a wet, slanted roof. Ladders and other tools are often used to access the roof from above the gutters and below.
Unfortunately, as seen in many emergency rooms each year, ladders sometimes collapse, slide, and tip over. To avoid this from happening to you, you’ll need to be on your guard and prioritize safety.
We’ll dive deeper into how to safely clean gutters while ensuring the safety of yourself and those around you.
How to Prepare for Gutter Cleaning
Gutter cleaning requires proper preparation to ensure maximum safety. Safe gutter cleaning begins with thoroughly understanding the process, using appropriate safety gear, and having the right tools for the job.
Here are a few tools to prepare for your DIY gutter cleaning project:
Ladder, including stabilizers, ladder jacks, and walk boards as needed
PPE, such as eye protection, gloves, skin protection, and respirator
Bucket, broom, pipe snake, trowel, gutter shovel, trash bags, and other useful tools
Running water, such as from a garden hose or pressure washer (if done safely)
Tips for Making Gutter Cleaning Easier and Faster to Perform
- Use a scoop, trowel, shovel, leaf blower, or your hands to remove as much large material as possible before introducing water.
- Clear the downspout opening. You’ll probably need to do this more than once, so set up another ladder near the opening to avoid constantly moving your ladder.
- Perform the gutter cleaning from the relative safety of the ground whenever possible. You can use a special garden hose adaptor to avoid getting on a roof or ladder, but the adaptors don’t work as well on multi-story homes.
- Install gutter guards to reduce or eliminate the need for regular gutter cleaning. Brush-type, foam-type, mesh-type, and reverse curl-type gutter guards are among the most popular with homeowners.
How to Clean Your Gutters Safely
Many homeowners prefer hiring a professional gutter cleaning company to avoid encountering the safety concerns of cleaning out their gutters. But some DIYers adopt a set of safety rules they’ve used in other DIY projects and apply them to their gutter cleaning project.
Here are a few safety rules specific to gutter cleaning that make it safe and effective.
Set your ladder on level, firm ground while having someone steady the ladder. Avoid trying to level the ladder by propping it on a stone or wood. Some ladders have built-in foot extenders, so use them when necessary.
If needed, instead of propping up one foot or the other with a piece of wood that could slip, lower one foot by digging a small hole in the ground to compensate for the height difference. You can use a garden trowel, claw hammer, or other tool to make the hole and return the dirt to the hole when you’re finished.
Remove any large debris by hand, with a scoop, or even a wet/dry vacuum cleaner when appropriate to remove as much small debris as possible. Use a bucket to collect the debris as needed, or place a drop cloth on the ground.
Flush out any small debris or loose dirt with a garden hose or a gutter cleaning attachment. Avoid wetting the roof as much as possible because you may need to walk on it at some point in the project.
Check for leaks or cracks in the gutters after they are clean. Repair them as needed, or hire a local gutter cleaning company to do the job.
Dispose of the debris properly and clean up the area. If you use water to clean your gutters, check with your local municipality and ask if they require runoff water collection. If they do, you’ll need to collect the runoff, as it may contain chemicals that could contaminate groundwater.
The Dos and Don’ts of Gutter Cleaning Safety
Wear gloves, appropriate clothing (like a disposable Tyvek suit), and appropriate footwear. Footwear companies have boots specially made for walking on roofs.
Use a sturdy, stable ladder that extends at least three feet above the roof’s edge if you need to walk on the roof. If your ladder won’t reach that far, rent or purchase an appropriate ladder, or hire a gutter cleaning pro.
Keep at least three points of contact with the ladder at all times. Avoid carrying tools while going up the ladder. A safer method is to attach a pulley accessory to your ladder and use a rope to pull bulky tools to the roof.
Don’t lean over or reach too far from the ladder. Ladder stabilizers help reduce the risk of tipping, as do anti-slide rubber caps for the ladder rails. Keep your ladder as plumb as you can, and check the footing frequently.
Avoid working on wet or windy days. Water will make the ladder, tools, and roof wet, increasing the danger. A strong, unexpected wind gust can make you lose your footing, so wear an arresting harness as appropriate when walking on a roof.
Don’t use metal tools that can damage or scratch your gutters. This includes homes with metal roofing. Instead, use plastic tools when possible, such as gutter shovels, plastic scrapers, and plastic scoops.
When and How Often to Clean Your Gutters
The frequency and timing of your gutter cleaning project depend on several factors, like the type and amount of debris, roof type, weather conditions, and the amount of debris your roof receives.
Pine needles, seeds, dirt, and twigs can quickly clog a downspout and lead to a gutter overflow. These overflows can cause landscaping erosion and damage your foundation, fascia, and siding.
Walk around your gutters and look for mold, mildew, dents, debris, leaks, twists, and loose hangers. Contact a gutter company for advice if you see any of these conditions.
Otherwise, there are a few things to consider when deciding how often to clean your gutters.
Consider installing reverse curve gutter guards if your gutters and roof are commonly subjected to strong winds and airborne debris. Upgrading from a shingle roof to a metal roof will also reduce wind uplift and twisting of your gutter system.
Type and Condition of Your Gutters and Roof
Roofs and gutters nearing the end of their life are less resistant to leaks. If your gutter system or roof needs replacement, consider requesting a free estimate from a qualified roofing pro. They can inspect your roof and offer suggestions for avoiding damage in the future.
Overhanging tree limbs are largely responsible for the debris that clogs gutters and causes overflows. Trimming back overhanging limbs will help reduce leaves, needles, twigs, cones, and animals from falling onto your roof.
Gutter and Downspout Size
Increasing your 5” gutters to the larger 6” or 7” size will reduce the clogs that require more cleaning. Downspouts can also be upgraded from the standard 2” x 3” to a larger 3” x 4” size. These can pass larger water volumes, large leaves, and twigs.
Depending on the gutter guard type you choose, it’s possible to reduce how often you have to clean your gutters. Less expensive versions still require some regular cleaning, but more elaborate designs can reduce gutter cleaning projects to once a year.
Gutter Cleaning Frequency
It’s best to clean your gutters bi-annually in late spring and late fall. If you have particularly active or harsh weather, you may need to clean your home’s gutters quarterly.
But if keeping your gutters clean is a constant challenge, consider investing in gutter guards to keep them functional. Reverse curve and mesh gutter guards virtually eliminate the need for frequent gutter cleaning.
Put Gutter Cleaning Safety At The Top of Your List
Gutter cleaning is vitally important to maintain the integrity of your home. But it’s just as important to have safety at the forefront of your gutter cleaning project.
Gutter cleaning safety is all about preparation and a focus on safety. The golden rule is: if you don’t feel confident in your skills, have the proper PPE, or if the project is beyond your skill level, call in a professional instead.
Contact our gutter cleaning experts and ask for a free estimate. Our gutter contractors are located all throughout the U.S. and have helped homeowners just like you with their gutter, roofing, and siding needs.
Gutter Cleaning Safety FAQs
Is it safe to rest a ladder on a gutter?
To avoid dents and scratches, use a standoff accessory to use the roof instead of the gutter to support the ladder. If you must lean the ladder on the gutter, place a towel between the ladder rails and the gutter. Also, set the ladder over a fastener with the fastener between the rails.
Is it safe to walk on the roof to clean gutters?
How do you clean gutters without removing gutter guards?
However, mesh-type and reverse curve-type gutter guards do not need to be removed for cleaning. Usually, a simple brush off with a broom is all the cleaning required.